Breaking news: I've just learned from reliable sources that if Mitt Romney is elected, he plans to practice polygamy in the White House and require all American men to take at least two wives. He will also nuke Iran on his first day in office, followed by an invasion of China. And North Korea. And Pakistan. Oh, also, if you make less than 20,000 dollars a year he plans to put you in a concentration camp, where you will work for the 1%, doing things like polishing shoes and scooping up dog poop. If you are a "job creator" he will provide you with a beach-side villa, fully staffed by the lazy poor.
I am, of course, making all this stuff up, but I have to say it is liberating to play by other people's rules for once. You see, it doesn't matter that none of this is true. I can just say it is, find a publisher for my forthcoming book or movie, and then watch the money roll in.
I'm dwelling on this fantasy because Alicia and I watched 2016: Obama's America this week. I expected it to be a good piece of propaganda, but it wasn't even that. It was just relentlessly stupid. Yet it was disheartening because I know people -- good people, wonderful people -- who have watched it and were intrigued. If you're looking for a refutation of 2016's claims, you won't find it here. That would be a nearly impossible project, not because the movie makes complex arguments, but because you cannot reason with someone who is determined to be unreasonable. Thus the illustration above: if I tell you Romney is going mandate polygamy next year and I'm absolutely assured of it, how exactly would you go about correcting me? You really can't. When people are either unwilling or incapable of making basic distinctions between plausibility and absurdity, reasoned argument simply doesn't work.
That said, I will note just a few random things that really bugged me about the movie.
--Much was made of the fact that Frank Marshall Davis, a mentor figure to Barack Obama, was a communist with a big FBI file. So let's cut through the historical ignorance and racist assumptions here. First, any civil rights person who was anybody in the 50s and 60s had a big FBI file. You know, there was this guy called Martin Luther King who the FBI aggressively persecuted and investigated. Maybe you've heard of him. Perhaps you didn't get the memo, but in mid-century America the FBI were the bad guys. Second, isn't it interesting how in the fevered imagination of the filmmaker, being a black communist in the 1950s is enough to be automatically tainted? Funny how such a sensible choice (for the time) immediately puts Davis under a cloud of suspicion, but you could be a white policeman without drawing any scrutiny. If we're going to criticize a few black men for being communists in the 1950s, we better start lining up about half of white America from the time and ask them why they participated in, enabled, or tolerated a racist police state.
--One of the funniest things about the movie is that it builds its case by relying on Barack Obama's own memoir. Obama has these nefarious plans to cut America down to size, and he revealed it in his own book, but it took a brilliant man like Dinesh D'Souza to come along and expose it I guess. But this actually makes sense. Small-minded villains keep everything a secret. But the great ones, like Hitler and Obama, hide their plans in plain sight -- in their books!
--Weirdly, unless you care about American nationalism or Republican partisanship more than basic morality, you're likely to come away from the first half of the film with a higher opinion of Obama! It actually does a good job of showing how the President's unusual background has given him a more sensitive social conscience and the precious moral skill of seeing complex issues from various perspectives.
--The movie never explains, of course, why President Obama has governed in such a normal way. He has all these horrible, unprecedented plans that no American president has ever had before. And even though he hasn't acted on them, just you wait! He will! See? You can't argue against that. So you may know in your heart of hearts that President Obama is anti-American, but I know just as well that I am actually a cyborg from a distant galaxy. As long as we're making fact free claims, they might as well be fun rather than depressing.
--To sum it up, those who found this movie compelling probably fit one of these categories:
a) You are a good person who happens to be extremely gullible.
b) You think having an anti-colonial mindset is a bad thing!
c) The corollary to b, you suffer from severe historical or moral confusion, or both.
d) You just like a good conspiracy. You're pretty sure we didn't go to the moon.
e) You value the Republican party or American nationalism more than anything else.
f) You are currently yelling at your computer screen, "Wow, Jesse Curtis is a cyborg?"
Beyond this there is one serious point to be made. The filmmaker, Dinesh D'Souza, was until a week or two ago the president of a small evangelical college. He lost his position when accusations of adultery came to light. It is right that his apparent brazen willingness to be unfaithful to his wife and live in violation of Christian principles should cause him to lose his position. But it ought to have been just as apparent that he never should have had such a position in the first place.
This is a man with nothing more than a bachelor's degree, who's once promising career has devolved into writing conspiratorial, utterly baseless screeds with a pronounced racist tinge. Despite this, he was a member in good standing in evangelicalism and the Christian Right. Think about that. You can make stuff up. You can lie. You can throw away any conviction you once may have had and just libel people and ignore some of the most basic teachings of the faith you claim to hold. You can proudly publish books and movies that are contemptuous of truth. For all of this, the Christian Right will pat you on the back. We ought to care about intellectual integrity just as much as sexual integrity.